Facial Tone

I must be succeeding at maintaining facial tone, as yesterday, stepping out of an elevator together, my colleague A told me “You must be having fun.”

“What?” I asked.

“You must be having fun, because everytime I see you, you’re smiling.”

“It’s something I work at.” I smiled.

Colleague K asked me “Do you have any accounts in Asia Pacific that are designing with our PCIe switches?”

I think. “Yes. In New Zealand, we have a customer working on a compute server.”

“New Zealand.” He pauses.

“Does this call for a business trip?” I asked.

For office humor, this is funny, and there are laughs around the conference table.

Customer meeting with an ODM today, who said. “The customer is asking for a Windows utility for what I think you would agree is very basic functionality. Don’t you think it’s a big problem if your company were unable to provide this basic functionality?” He let his words sink in. There is an awkward pause.

I smiled. “It ain’t like we don’t provide this functionality. We provide the source code! Only that it’s optimized for Linux, and the customer wants a Windows port.”

For customer humor, this is funny, and there are laughs around the conference table.



I am trying to avoid a general loss of facial tone when at work.

Work is ideally: an inclusive environment where we can help each other, where we can work together to make our lives easier and happier, where we can relax into roles that suit our talents.







Aikido: “It’s like surfing.”

I took a co-worker to Aikido practice a few weeks back. He was a complete beginner, but was an accomplished surfer. His body was flexible, and he moved a lot. When I trained with him, it was a good workout.

After practice, he made comparisons with surfing – about how he was reminded of learning to maintain one’s balance, about sensing the momentum of a wave, and moving with it.

He asked me – “Today, everyone was very polite and accommodating to each other. Is Aikido ever nasty?” I told him yes, it is a martial art, and I have been guilty of throwing people hard when they resisted. But at the same time, I expect to be thrown very hard when I resist, and it is very fulfilling.

“People do Aikido for different reasons. We can help each other to become stronger. It can be like a dance. But it is a martial art. Ultimately we are studying how to fight. What about surfing?” I asked.

Well, the thing with surfing is that only one person can ride the wave. Everyone is watching for where the wave will come, and it’s a fight to get to the spot where you can ride it. If you are strong enough and can read the waves well enough, you can be the first one to the spot. When I was learning to surf, we would travel places, and sometimes the local people wouldn’t let us surf. My instructor would get really mad, and sometimes there would be fistfights on shore. But, in the water, there’s little you can do.

I used to do that, too. I was good enough that I could ride the wave whenever I wanted. But now, I don’t think that that is such a fair thing to do.

Personal Ecosystem

There is a jumping spider about the size of my thumbnail who lurks in the area around my bathtub. I saw it this morning as I took my morning shower, close to the drain, and afraid that I might flush it accidentally down the drain, I made it crawl onto my hand, by putting one hand in front of it, and pushing it from behind with the other. it crawled on, and after crawling a bit, must have become scared, as it played dead. I put it down at the back of the bathtub, which is connected to a shelf on which there is a Listerine bottle behind which I have seen it hiding. (The Listerine bottle being translucent, I can see if the spider is hiding behind it.) Scattered around the bottle are various corpses of ants and flies, remnants of its previous meals.

It playing dead, and my hands being wet from the shower, it stood face down in a bead of water where I had left it. After my shower, fearing it might drown, I took the edge of my towel and wicked the bead of water away. The spider still played dead. “It’s alright buddy.” I said. “Take care, now.”

This is the longest friendship I have had with a spider. I check for it when I shower, and I see it once a day at least. Jumping spiders I have seen at Hongu Taisha Shrine in Japan are very tame. They would jump on my arm and let me pet them, but the one in my shower will shy away, though it will turn around a look at me. Jumping spiders, like praying mantises, have good binocular vision for hunting, and to have an insect look back at me gives me to odd sense of it having a personality. My bathroom has a resonant frequency, and if I hum a little tune that has notes at the resonant frequency, the spider will move a little. Maybe it knows my voice.

I have two other web spiders of different species, the web of one of whom I have found the corpse of a cockroach, at first looking freshly dead, and then a couple days later its exoskeleton shriveled and empty-looking.

I have discovered recorded sounds of the forest on Youtube, and for the past two nights I have listed to this track while I fall asleep. I find it deeply relaxing. When I have headphones on, I am transported to the stereo soundscape of a forest, in the rain, with chirping crickets, hooting owls, and the occasional crow. It is expansive. I feel that I am in a space where I can hear for hundreds of meters around, the insects and owls off in the distance watching over things, and signaling to me that it is safe. There are no predators. I can breathe easily.


When biking in Hualien, my friend and I passed by the Honglim Smoke House (鳯林菸樓). Built during the Japanese period, it is in a Japanese mud-daub style, and was built for drying and pickling vegetables using technology that the Japanese brought to Taiwan. After being restored by the Taiwanese government in the 90s, the private caretakers have basically left it to rot, and it is now filled with surplus building materials, trash, and guarded by two rather mean dogs. They barked at us from inside, as we were peering inside the window of the smokehouse, and when we circled around, they stepped out and stood in the middle of the street. I wanted to cycle around to see the entrance of the smokehouse. I incanted. “You keep to yourself, and I’ll keep to myself. You don’t bother me, and I don’t bother you.” Then I signaled this in my body language and rode forward past them as if they weren’t there. They lay where they were, and pretended they didn’t see me. Up till then they had been very territorial. Once I had seen dog trainer legend Cesar Millan tame an aggressive dog by acting like a high-status dog: calm, unaggressive, not making eye contact, but moving confidently into the aggressive dog’s territory as if it were no big deal. This really works.


For Love

It is better to do things because you love to do them, without regard to whether you will get big.

Morenasso Sensualonda tells a story of when he was teaching kizomba (a dance originating in Angola) in France. To help popularize it, he would visit parties that advertised themselves as playing salsa, bachata, and kizomba music. He would arrive and there would be salsa music playing, and he would wait. “Salsa, salsa, salsa, salsa, salsa, salsa, bachata, bachata, bachata…. Kizomba! and I would dance!, and then it would be over, and I would wait. Salsa, salsa, salsa, salsa, salsa, salsa, bachata, bachata, bachata… Kizomba! The whole time the DJ would play only one Kizomba song an hour! And you couldn’t blame him. He was watching the dance floor, and if when he plays Kizomba, I am the only one on the dance floor, then he will not play that much Kizomba. In fact, if he played more Kizomba, people would be mad at him for not be doing his job!”

It can take a long time to teach and cultivate a circle of friends, who can then grow to a population of people who can dance. Kizomba is is now widely danced in Europe. I do not know whether Morenasso had set out to create a population of people would could dance to music that he loved, but I believe that had fashion not gone his way – that he would still be dancing it out of love.

If we do things for popularity, if we never get popular,  or if we fall in popularity, then we have nothing. If we do things out of love – it’s the only reason we need.

Different sorts of training

Corporate small talk – During lunch one day we talked about different polo shirts that we had gotten from the company, and what colors we liked.

Resolve – A co-worker told me that it is not necessary to speak out about a person who is not doing his job. For one, the person speaking up is often punished. Once, he spoke up against his supervisor, who made the blame fall on my co-worker, and eventually got promoted in spite of the complaints against his management style. I thought about my own childhood, seeing people who spoke up and those who did not, and thought that speaking up is like standing up for yourself in a fight. The goal is not to win, but to make the other person pause in the future before doing anything disrespectful.

Compassion – He had spoken with his mother about a current co-worker of his, and his mother advised him not to say too much. Just think, what if the man got fired? Could you live with yourself?

Patience – the day after, my co-worker finished the story. His supervisor had gotten promoted over another person that my co-worker’s team was supporting for the promotion. This was considered unjust. Yet, when turnover at that team remained very high (due to the promoted man’s managerial style) he came under scrutiny, and was removed. Thus, the man was removed not by any one person’s complaint, but by gradual general consensus. You just have to wait things out.

Martial – I learned a new way of falling when getting thrown that allows me to counterattack with a knife in my free hand even when someone is twisting my arm. It requires me to jump over the shoulder of the arm that is being twisted, while knifing the person. During practice, I do not think of knifing my partner, as such a thought would cause me to tense up. Rather, I think whether it is possible to touch him. It will take some more work before I can execute the movement naturally. After practice, I spoke with the teacher. He praised my worn, patched hakama, the dress-like garment that is worn on the lower-half of the body over the pants. More than a belt rank, it is proof of the depth of one’s training. I asked him why he doesn’t wear his old hakama. He says the students would ask – why aren’t you wearing the new one. I remembered hearing that the new hakama was a gift from one of the students, and I realized it was because he didn’t want to disappoint them. This, too, indicates depth of his training.

Intellectual – How wonderful all the options for ways to make a living and tools to help us that present themselves to us. Yet, so many are dependent on oil and natural gas. Just in 2014, Canada was extracting oil from tar sands, an undertaking that requires burning large quantities of natural gas. That is how scarce oil was. Now with cheap shale oil, we have a reprieve, but for how long? All of human endeavor is currently subsidized by millions of years of fossilized sunlight. When we run out, as we certainly will, we will return, if we are lucky, to the Italian Renaissance, or to Tokugawa Japan. Where the Italian Renaissance got its energy from, I’m not sure, but Tokugawa Japan got its energy from large-scale planting of cedars, which were converted to coal to power industry. So extensively were cedars that the fill the air during pollen season so thickly with pollen that many who live in Japan for a few years become allergic to it.

Seeing things both ways – A Taiwanese-American recently moved back to Taiwan, in love with Aikido, having attained a certain level of training, teaching in order to spread ones love for the art. Such words describe me and one other person. But we are also different. I find that I am very Japanese. I came, met a lot of teachers and students, expanding my network of Aikido friends, helping to teach at various universities. I have done this for over two years. Stereotypically, Japan’s is a culture that looks to history for answers. The other man came, and after visiting a few places, decided that he wanted to do things differently, and opened his own dojo. Stereotypically, America’s is a culture without a past.

Friendships – Facebook has a feature that digs up old pictures and puts them on the newsfeed again. Today an old friend messaged me, commemorating eight years of friendship on facebook, but thirteen in reality. I had just thought about her yesterday, funny coincidence. In many ways I liked myself better then – truer to my ideals, faster to act, smiling more, talking more.

Aikido – A student of mine is going to Japan to live with a couple in Japan, whom I’ve known for eight years. The couple do Aikido, and when they came to Taiwan to live for a year, they came to the NTNU dojo because I’d recommended it to them. I know the couple well because I continued training at the same dojo in Tokyo in spite of some conflict between the teacher and me. I had considered leaving, but I stayed. As for my conflict with my teacher, this seemed in the end not so important as the fact that we were connected by our love for the art.

Different lives – Once, I did scaffolding, and the people I did scaffolding with would scarce imagine that I was trained as an engineer and once worked at an air-conditioned desk job. Now, at a desk job, the people around me would scarce imagine that I once used my sweat and muscle to earn money regardless of biting cold or sweltering heat. The cold was alright – moving kept me warm. But the heat was rather unbearable. One day, I drank five liters before getting off of work. I liked it well enough to continue doing it for a year on weekends after I went back to a desk job. And I think to myself, I have at different points in my life lived as an American, a Japanese, and now a Taiwanese, and they are all personas that I assume. Everyone has a persona that they assume for convenience or protection.